Sunday, 14 June 2009

On the Black Hill

The Vision was an outlying farm on the Lurkenhope Estate. The tenant had died in 1896, leaving an old unmarried sister who had carried on alone until they fetched her to the mad house.
In the yard, a young ash-tree reared its trunk through the boards of a hay-wagon. The roofs of the buildings were yellow with stonecrop; and the dungheap was overgrown with grass. At the end of the garden stood a brick-built privy. Amos slashed down the nettles to clear a path to the porch.
They went into the kitchen. The plaster was flaking and the flagstones had grown a film of slime. Twigs from a jackdaw's nest up the chimney were choking the grate. He slipped an arm around her waist and said 'Could you live in this?' 'I could' she said, turning to face him, as he knotted his hands in the small of her back.
Rearing up like a barrier over the gentler countryside of Herefordshire, a ridge marks the border with wild Wales. The highest point is the Black Hill, which name was used by the late lamented Bruce Chatwin in his novel 'On the Black Hill', a book of twos ....twin brothers, two countries, two smallholdings (The Vision and The Rock), two religions, two wars.
He said that it could have been set "anywhere between South Shropshire and Monmouthshire", but I like to think of it in the valleys either side of the Black Hill - Golden Valley in England and the Vale of Ewyas in Wales, with the towns of Hay-on-Wye at the northern tip and Abergavenny to the south.
This is sheep country, and it's shearing season. Welsh border collies round up the sheep, bringing them down from the mountain, and skilled shearers travel from farm to farm on piece work. The sheep from the lower slopes are done first (as it's warmer down there) and those from the tops are done last.
Streams run down the slopes into the valleys, with grey wagtails and dippers catching the plentiful bugs above (and below) the water. The streams flow into the Usk, Monnow and Wye - beautiful rivers all.
The chapel at Capel-y-ffin, a mile along the track from The Vision.Goldfinches
We've visited the Welsh side of the mountain for many years now, but I've wanted to see the Golden Valley side. On the OS map was marked 'PH' in the lee of the Black Hill, in the hamlet of Craswall. With a thirst to quench, my needs were few and the exterior looked rough, but the welcome was warm, the food excellent and the beer superb. It's a place to search out if you're near.


Mary said...

Lovely countryside. That fragment of story really catches ones attention. It looks such a wild place and sounds like a hard but simple life. Wales is a beautiful country. I actually recognize a few names from our one trip there. We looked at books in Hay-on-Wye and my children dipped their toes in the Monnow...I Skinfrith castle(?) It was a vacation none of us will forget. I would love to go back to Wales again some day. How fortunate you are to be able to go often.

Warren Baker said...

Well thats wetted my appetite Steve!! I'm off to wales in august, not been there for a few years, but I used to go twice a year every year, in the nineties

NW Nature Nut said...

It looks beautiful. Someday, someday....

Greenie said...

Steve ,
All that post needed was a Welsh male voice choir , singing quietly in the background .
Enjoyed the read .
Yakidah - or whatever it is .

steve said...

So lucky to be able to now call this place home. Some lovely pics here too.

Kingsdowner said...

Steve, I'm so envious of you (although it must be interesting in the winter snows).
Great photos - I hope to buy in future (and also visit the area again).